There have many blind musicians through the years and I'm sure that a few come to mind as you read this. But one that is mostly remembered as a songwriter — if he's remembered at all — was actually an amazingly skilled multi-instrumentalist and a very popular singer in his day.
Texan Leon Payne was nearly blind at birth and soon lost what little sight he had. As he grew up he attended special schools, and it was there that he discovered an aptitude for music. Encouraged by his teachers, by the time he left school he was a skilled guitarist, an accomplished pianist and organist, and was equally at home with drums and trombone.
Of course, being talented didn't mean automatic success — especially in the midst of the depression — but young Leon managed to get work with some of the area's musical groups. Working his way up, he also began to appear on radio and finally gained enough experience to win a job with Bob Wills in 1939. Wills and his Texas Playboys were building what would become a legendary force in country music, and Leon formed a bond that would continue even after he later went out on his own.
Leon was also writing a lot of music during this period, and was finally able to begin recording some of his own songs as a solo singer. His early tunes, such as "Down Where the Violets Grow" and others, did sell some records but didn't really attract a lot of notice. For the next few years he continued to kick around the music scene, for a while calling himself the Texas Blind Hitchhiker.
He eventually formed his own band, the Lone Star Buddies, and by the late 1940s was beginning to find some real success. His band was appearing on popular programs like the Louisiana Hayride and the Grand Ole Opry, and other country singers were discovering the great songs he was composing. The biggest splash was probably made by Hank Williams' recording of "Lost Highway," a song that would eventually take its place as a country classic.
The success he was enjoying allowed Leon to record "I Love You Because" in 1950, and it was especially meaningful to him because it was dedicated to his wife Myrtle. It would become his biggest solo hit, and would later generate a lot of record sales when covered by many country and pop singers.
Throughout the 1950s Leon continued to perform and record his own music, but it was as a songwriter that he began to build his legend. Other singers loved his songs, and hit followed hit. Hank Williams recorded "They'll Never Take Her Love From Me," and Hank Snow had a big record with "For Now and Always." Carl Smith had a pair of hits with "More Than Anything Else in the World" and "Doorstep to Heaven."
Leon continued to find success into the 1960s, but in 1965 he was slowed by a heart attack. For the next few years he continued at a lessened pace before dying in 1969 after a second attack. He left behind a legacy of countless good songs, performed by everybody from George Jones and Johnny Cash to Al Martino.